Friday 26 October 2012

Singapore link in Xi Jinping's reform agenda?

Many around China's anointed leader urge reform, and Singapore is one possible model for open and progressive one-party rule
By Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield, Published The Straits Times, 25 Oct 2012

AFTER it was leaked that Mr Xi Jinping, the man anointed to be the next Communist Party chief of China, had met in private with a well-known supporter of political liberalisation, the capital's elite began to buzz about the import of the encounter.

Mr Hu Deping, the son of a former leader, who went to Mr Xi's home in July, has organised salons where the scions of powerful families have discussed how to keep the party from becoming mired in corruption and losing the trust of ordinary Chinese. People briefed on the meeting said Mr Xi had declared his support for steady reform.

"Hu Deping, through certain channels, sent out the message that he had been meeting with Xi Jinping," said Mr Zhang Lifan, a historian who knows Mr Hu. "I think the two are trying to send a signal."

As China's critical once-a-decade leadership transition approaches next month, Chinese officials, policy advisers and intellectuals are again pushing for what they broadly call "reform" - a further opening up of the economic and political system that the party has constructed through 63 years of authoritarian rule. With the economy slowing, the disconnect between haves and have-nots building, and state-owned businesses exerting even greater influence on policy, advocates for change say the status quo appears increasingly sclerotic.

Much of the talk now over China's future path centres on whether Mr Xi, the son of a revolutionary leader who helped oversee China's post-Mao economic transformation, can muster the confidence, ideological grounding and power base to push through what reformers see as the policies needed to keep China vigorous and help overcome its growing inequities. Mr Xi, 59, has not revealed his plans - to rise to his level in the party, survival depends on holding cards close, analysts say.

But the messages he is hearing are becoming clearer: a number of prominent people orbiting Mr Xi are urging the party to adopt more liberal policies to regain the legitimacy it enjoyed when it was a revolutionary force.

The harsh expulsion last month of Bo Xilai, who tried to woo traditionalists and Maoists before he fell into disgrace, has also encouraged liberals to call for party leaders to adopt systemic changes. Ms Hu Shuli, an influential Chinese journalist acquainted with Mr Xi, published an editorial this month in her magazine, Caixin, under the headline "Bo Xilai as a catalyst for political reform".

Those close to Mr Xi who are urging reform go well beyond the usual liberal intellectual voices. They include active and retired officials, childhood friends from China's "red nobility", army generals and even his half-sister Xi Qianping. Mr Xi and his allies have dropped a few hints recently that Mr Xi is at least open to hearing new ideas.

One political theorist said Mr Xi, with the backing of Mr Jiang Zemin, the former party chief, had overseen a team researching the Singapore model of governing that allows more liberal economic policies and political voices under one-party rule. Mr Wu Si, the editor of a journal backed by liberal party elders, said that he has heard encouraging reports that "practical work on political system reform" could emerge after the transition.

Mr Xi also recently issued an indirect warning about corrupt practices that have soiled the party's image, telling officials studying at the Central Party School in Beijing that "time should not be spent on networking and buying dinners".

To push systematic changes in the next few years, however, Mr Xi will also need to assure current party chief Hu Jintao that such a drive will not tarnish his legacy, analysts say.

On Oct 16, Seeking Truth, a party journal, ran a long essay that trumpeted a July speech by Mr Hu Jintao as setting the tone for reforms. "The conflicts that have arisen from reforms can only be solved by deepening reform," it said. The essay was read out on China Central Television.

When Mr Hu Jintao took power in 2002, there was much hope among liberals and Westerners that he would push forward the kind of reforms being talked about once again. But many analysts and political insiders are now calling the years under him and Premier Wen Jiabao, a "lost decade", in which China, for all its advancements, retrenched into a quasi- command economy, ignored legal protections and expanded the state security apparatus.

Analysts say that Mr Xi faces great political risks in taking on the nation's many vested interests and possibly repudiating Mr Hu Jintao's policies. Moreover, the authority of the top office has become more diffuse with each generation, and Mr Xi would need to marshal powerful alliances to push through changes. Another obstacle to change is the way that Mr Xi's own circle has profited from the current system: Bloomberg reported in June that some members of Mr Xi's family had amassed fortunes totalling at least several hundred million dollars.

The challenge before party leaders is summed up in a new paper from Strategy and Reform, a research group that advises China's main economic development agency: "Of course, reform will bring much risk, but the risk of not reforming is bigger. Choose the lesser of the two evils." The paper, which emphasises changing China's economic structure, suggests creating a new committee that supersedes all government organs to push more liberal economic policies. On political reforms, it urges the party to be an "open and progressive central power" that allows individuals and private companies significantly greater autonomy. The paper mentioned Singapore as a model several times.

Liberal policy advisers have long pressed a reform agenda, including expanding competition in state-dominated industries, elevating village elections to the township level or higher, building a more independent judiciary, giving ordinary people more land use rights, and providing a stronger social safety net to encourage greater domestic spending.

For all their exhortations, few pushing for such changes are seeking an end to one-party rule. That is why Singapore, the South-east Asian city-state of five million that has been a point of reference for China's reformers since the 1980s, has emerged again among some of Mr Xi's advisers.

Mr Xi visited Singapore in November 2010, and other top officials have followed. Last year, General Liu Yazhou, an advocate of party reform, dispatched a team of military officers to live in Singapore and prepare a study, which is expected to be presented to Mr Xi after the transfer of party posts next month. National University of Singapore scholar Bo Zhiyue said the group's mission was to "find a solution for China after the 18th Party Congress".

That will not be easy. In the period leading up to the congress, tensions have emerged between Mr Xi and Mr Hu Jintao over setting the official policy direction for the future leadership; Mr Xi's absence from public life for two weeks this autumn was in part related to that, said two people who know Mr Xi and, like him, are the "princeling" children of senior party officials.

And even among his supporters, there are some who question whether any adopted reform mantle would be more show than substance. "No matter whether Xi actually reforms China or not," said a member of a prominent military family, "he has to entertain reforms, for the sake of the reformists and the public."

Jane Perlez contributed reporting. Mia Li contributed research.

Learn from PAP, Chinese leaders urged
The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2012

HONG KONG - A leading policy journal of the Communist Party of China has called on leaders to take a leaf out of Singapore's book in running the country, with the party's once-in-a-decade leadership transition around the corner.

The Study Times, run by the Central Party School under Mr Xi Jinping, the heir-apparent to President Hu Jintao, lauded Singapore's form of closely managed democracy and its long-ruling main party for having genuine popular support.

"If you want to win people's hearts and their support, you have to have a government that serves the people," said Mr Song Xiongwei, a lecturer at the Chinese Academy of Governance, in the article.

"Since 1968, the People's Action Party has won consecutive elections and held state power for a long time, while ensuring that the party's high efficiency, incorruptibility and vitality lead Singapore in attaining an economic leap forward," he said.

The South China Morning Post said yesterday that the article's publication ahead of the party's 18th national congress on Nov 8 offers a strong hint that Mr Xi could learn from the Singapore model after taking over the party's secretary-general post from Mr Hu at the congress, and the presidency next year.

"The Singapore model has been admired by most Chinese leaders and Mr Xi might see Singapore's success as the dreamt accomplishments of his rule in the coming decade," said the Hong Kong newspaper, quoting Mr Zhang Ming, a political scientist at Renmin University.

The article praised the PAP's introduction of internal democracy and competition that effectively stems corruption within the party.

"Singapore has created a model distinct from the West's," it added.

However, some analysts remained doubtful on how much a city-state's experience could be applied to China, a vast country with a population of 1.3 billion, the Post said.

Mr John Lee, a China expert at Sydney University, said: "The rule of law is weak in China, while corruption is widespread at almost all levels of the government and bureaucracy."

CCTV goes big on S'pore with 10-parter
Series 'endorsed by Xi Jinping' is a detailed study of Republic's success
By Peh Shing Huei and Kr Kian Beng, The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2012

BEIJING - The Chinese government is filming a proposed 10-part documentary on Singapore's model of governance, a project said to be personally endorsed by incoming leader Xi Jinping.

State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) has been talking to Singapore politicians, unionists and scholars in recent weeks, in a bid to find out the secret to the tiny nation's success.

The series, expected to be shown here around next March, is believed to be a blueprint of sorts for the new administration.

It aims to showcase Singapore as a model for China as it charts a fresh path after the 18th Party Congress which opens on Nov 8.

In its brochure to interviewees obtained by The Straits Times, the production team said Singapore has created a "unique miracle in the world" and it would like to find out how to adapt this for China's "further reforms and sustainable development".

The Chinese Communist Party has been eager to learn how Singapore maintains a one-party dominant system in a prosperous and stable society. But while the city-state has been an exemplar for China since the 1980s, Mr Xi, according to several sources, is keen to reaffirm the Singapore model for China's reforms.

The hope is that Singapore's experiences can help China solve its growing wealth gap, corruption and weak rule of law.

The project is headed by China's National Defence University and led by pro-democracy General Liu Yazhou and hawkish Major-General Zhu Chenghu. Gen Liu is the son-in-law of former president Li Xiannian, and known to be close to Mr Xi.

A team was first sent to Singapore last year, but returned around August this year for a closer look, said interviewees. It is a comprehensive study. Tentative episode listings include governance, party longevity and the rule of law. Each episode is expected to be 45 minutes long.

CCTV has interviewed several retired political leaders, officials, academics, opinion makers and ordinary Singaporeans. The Straits Times understands top unionists, such as secretary-general Lim Swee Say, are also included.

No other government minister seems to have been interviewed for this yet.

One episode will focus on the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and also opposition parties. Mr Alex Yam, who is the PAP headquarters' deputy executive director, said it hosted visits to the party HQ as well as to Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Indranee Rajah's Meet-the-People Session.

The Workers' Party (WP), which has the biggest slate of opposition MPs in Parliament, will also be featured. "It seems that they are interested in WP history. They filmed WP artefacts and requested WP publications," said party chief Low Thia Khiang.

The National Solidarity Party (NSP) was shadowed by the CCTV crew on two community walkabouts. "My guess is that they want to open up politically but they have concerns," said NSP president Sebastian Teo.

"So they want to find out how the ruling party in Singapore holds on to power, and why the opposition continues fighting despite the challenges."

Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng, one of the PAP parliamentarians interviewed, said he was surprised at the scale of the documentary.

The CCTV's 2006 series Rise Of Great Nations, which featured the history of nine countries including the US and Japan, had 12 episodes. "A 10-parter on Singapore alone is a lot," he said.

The crew's focus was on how MPs have had to adapt after last year's general election, when the ruling party had its lowest vote share since independence.

"It seems to me that China, with an incoming new leadership, wants to learn how it can better meet the changing needs of the Chinese people," Mr Baey added.

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